By Joseph Omotayo for Afridiaspora
We Are All Blue is an artful compression of Botswanan history. Almost everything you need to know about that country is in it. How Donald Molosi manages to compress these things marvels me. We Are All Blue is a collection of two plays: Blue, Black and White and Motswana: Africa, Dream Again. The first play is based on Botswanan formative realities. It is also about the love story of Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams Khama, the founding president and first lady of the country. This is a very troubled love story as it is triumphant. Lady Ruth is white and Sir Seretse is black. In England, Sir Seretse Khama is the other. Back in Botswana, Lady Ruth Williams is rejected. This universalises racial discrimination. This is where Teju Cole’s thought on racism can be extended when he submits: “To be a stranger is to be looked at, but to be black is to be looked at especially”. In the scenario between Lady Ruth Williams and Sir Seretse Khama, it is both ways. For Ruth, in Botswanna, to be a stranger is to be looked at and to be white is to be looked at differently – and vice versa for Sir Seretse Khama in England.
The first play is also deeply situated in precolonial Botswana, as it cursorily reflects the country in her independence. Motswana: Africa, Dream Again is hinged on the troubles independent Botswana and all of Africa still grapples with. Again, everything about Botswana is enshrined in this book. Donald Molosi summarises history for us. This collection is a simplified but magnificent historical token. This play text does not only entertain, it instructs and treats numerous modern and postmodern concerns.
There are mixes of elements of the Brechtian epic theatre and the postmodernist Mohammedian Abibigoro theatre in this play text. There is a thin line between features of both though; just like modernism does not so much differ from postmodernism. We Are All Blue uses features of both theatres to present truths. History clearly comes through.
The first play in the collection, Blue, Black and White, in a Brechtian style, has characters playing different roles. Lefika plays as a student and also as Sir Seretse Khama; Aishwarya plays roles of a student, a villager, Bongani and Ruth’s mother; Teacher plays the role of a teacher and Ruth; and Frank plays a student, a villager and Ruth’s father. The transition between multi characters will interest you. You need to read this book. More so, it will be wonderful to see this on stage. A drama is limited in the text form. You should know; these different character transitions have their purposes. For one, Donald Molosi does not want you lost in fictive emotions. When a character transitions and changes their costumes right there before the audience, with nothing hidden, you are reminded of the reality that is life. To be reminded of reality in this way is to see the play as just a representation, nothing more. This is an effective detachment technique to ward off irrelevant catharses. This is one of the ways Brechtian theatre deconstructs the conventions of theatre. In the first play also, the audience participates. Here, Seretse seems to co-opt the audience into participation:
(Seretse walks downstage and delivers the following line to the audience with his right hand raised.)
Now, who among you approve of my marriage?
(Looks around. Long silence. After an even longer pause, members of the ensemble stand with their right hands raised in support and stand behind the weeping King. He reacts, still facing audience, and smiles and laughs through his tears.) (pg. 35)
And here too:
Daniel Malan and Ian Smith, Prime Ministers of South Africa and Rhodesia, respectively. They both have strong Afrikaner accents. They are addressing the audience. (pg. 36)
Abibigoro drama is mostly an improvisatorial theatre. With traces of an epic theatre, Abibogoro heavily relies on improvisation. Perhaps this is why it is the best form of theatre for mobile theatres and in situations where some stage props are lacking. Sometimes, this kind of theatre may overstretch the actor. It may sometimes require more than an actor’s acting skill. In Blue, Black and White, as Masire recalls an event involving Sir Seretse Khama, Ruth Khama and uncle Tshekedi at the airport, ensembles use their bodies as a plane and radio. What a pure artistry! See the stage direction:
(…For example, for the airport scene, the other ensemble members should create a plane with their bodies and for the state address they should use their bodies to show a radio studio, etc.) (pg. 62).
The focus of Abibigoro theatre is what Yaw Asare calls the artistic “search for, and evolution of a set of artistic and communicative channels that can most effectively permeate the consciousness of today’s complex society.” in his critical overview of Mohammed ben-Abdallah’s The Trial of Mallam Ilya. Abibigoro theatre therefore seeks to break monotonies while acknowledging the complexities that make us human. This interrogation of these human complexities greatly informs the transitions of different characters in an actor.
My favourite part of the book is the telegram exchanges between Sir Seretse Khama and Uncle Tshekedi. This is a tensed communication following Sir Seretse Khama’s marriage to Lady Ruth Williams. The ‘Stops’ between their words create sublimity. The ‘stops’ indicates the sign sounds of the telegram. I will love to see how actors will interpret this telegramming on stage.
UNCLE TSHEKEDI: My dear Sonny, sending this telegram hoping you arrived safely in London (STOP) Everything well in Serowe (STOP) Your uncle and father, Tshekedi Khama
SERETSE: Dear Uncle, settling well in England (STOP) Feeling lonely sometimes (STOP) Not enjoying courses in Latin and Greek (STOP) Changing degree to law (STOP) Your nephew and son, Seretse
UNCLE TSHEKEDI: My dear Sonny, congratulations on settling well (STOP) May my brother’s spirit protect you, his beloved son (STOP) Put work into studies and be successful at the end of the year (STOP) Law is good choice for our future leader (STOP) Your uncle and father, Tshekedi Khama
(Change of emotional beat. Perhaps a pause.)
SERETSE: Dear Uncle, I send greetings (STOP) Thank you for sending my allowance early (STOP) Happy to write with good news (STOP) (Pause) Her name is Ruth Williams (STOP) Your nephew and son, Seretse
UNCLE TSHEKEDI: Dear Sonny, suspending your allowance (STOP) You are Prince of Bangwato (STOP) You are going to be King (STOP) Your people cannot accept this (STOP) Formal signing of documents in England does not constitute your marriage as far as we are concerned no marriage exists (STOP) We accept nothing short of dissolution of that marriage (STOP) Our decision firm (STOP) Welfare of tribe paramount in this case (STOP) Repeat, formal signing of documents in England does not constitute your marriage (STOP) Your father, Tshekedi Khama
SERETSE: Dear Uncle, tribe and you important to me (STOP) Already married (STOP) Dissolution unacceptable (STOP) Ready to return with wife (STOP) Suspension of allowances being felt (STOP) I pay four guineas weekly (STOP) Ke le ngwana wa gago, Seretse
UNCLE TSHEKEDI: Dear sonny, allowances sent (STOP) Airfare to Botswana (STOP) For one passenger (STOP) Get ready to leave at moment’s notice (STOP) I can only discuss your proposal personally after your arrival here
We Are All Blue also probes how history is made. The character Frank does that well as he questions everything said he class. One should not just read this collection. You should see them too.
I will like to visit Bechuanaland someday. You don’t know where that is? Lol! Then read this book.
We Are All Blue will be available at the 2016 Writivism festival in August.
This review was first published at Afridiaspora.com as part of the Writivism 2016 Festival Partnership.